Age-related hearing loss, which concerns most adults at some point, will be lateral, that is, it affects both ears to some point. As a result, the public sees hearing loss as a black and white — either somebody has typical hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that ignores one particular kind of hearing loss completely.
A 1998 study estimated approximately 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that number has gone up in that last two decades.
What’s Single-Sided hearing loss and What Causes It?
As its name suggests, single-sided hearing loss suggests a reduction in hearing only in one ear.In intense instances, profound deafness is possible.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss vary. It may be the result of trauma, for example, a person standing beside a gun fire on the left may end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disorder may lead to the issue, as well, for example:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
No matter the origin, a person who has unilateral hearing must adapt to a different method of processing audio.
Direction of the Audio
The mind utilizes the ears nearly like a compass. It defines the direction of noise based on what ear registers it initially and at the highest volume. When a person talks to you while standing on the left, the brain sends a message to turn in that direction.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the noise will only come in one ear no matter what way it comes from. In case you have hearing from the left ear, your head will turn to search for the sound even if the person talking is on the right.
Think for a minute what that would be like. The sound would always enter one side no matter where what direction it comes from. How would you know where a person speaking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not deep, sound direction is catchy.
Focusing on Audio
The mind also uses the ears to filter out background sound. It informs one ear, the one closest to the noise that you wish to concentrate on, to listen for a voice. Your other ear manages the background sounds. This is precisely why at a noisy restaurant, you can still concentrate on the conversation at the table.
When you can’t use that tool, the mind gets confused. It is not able to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that’s everything you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The brain has a lot going on at any one time but having two ears enables it to multitask. That is why you can sit and read your social media account whilst watching Netflix or talking with family. With just one working ear, the mind loses the ability to do something when listening. It must prioritize between what you see and what you hear, so you tend to lose out on the dialogue around you while you browse your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to an individual with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so that they bend enough to wrap around the mind and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t survive the trek.
If you are standing beside an individual having a high pitched voice, then you may not understand what they say if you don’t turn so the good ear is on their side. On the other hand, you may hear somebody having a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they are on because they create longer sound waves that make it into either ear.
Individuals with just slight hearing loss in just one ear tend to adapt. They learn fast to turn their mind a certain way to hear a friend talk, for example. For those who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that returns their lateral hearing to them.